Grassland Wildfires in the Southern Great Plains: Monitoring Ecological Impacts and Recovery
Devastating wildfires in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas in 2016 and 2017 resulted in significant social, economic, and environmental losses, with the agricultural sector among those severely affected. Several satellite-based indices were evaluated as potential monitoring tools for post-wildfire ecological recovery and management of grasslands. All indices evaluated provided useful information and indicated rapid vegetation recovery from wildfire. The Leaf Water Stress Index (LSWI) and Gross Primary Productivity (GPP) showed a distinct response to the wildfire events, and differentiated between burned and unburned areas throughout the post-wildfire growing seasons better than the Normalized Difference Vegetative Index (NDVI) and Enhanced Vegetative Index (EVI). In particular, the LSWI may provide a useful tool for mapping the footprint of wildfire, with potential utility for organizations that provide post-fire recovery resources. The GPP, which estimates the biomass productivity of vegetation, can provide information to livestock operators to guide the re-stocking of cattle in the aftermath of wildfire. In sum, satellite-based proxies can provide timely information both to characterize a wildfire’s footprint and to guide post-fire grazing management in a manner that balances short term needs for forage with long-term productivity and ecological function.